Snake Buying Tips
Buying a snake can be a sizable investment. Purchasing any pet requires making a commitment to the pet's care and well-being, and getting a snake is no different. Like any other pet, it is important to do your research so you know that the particular species or breed is something you will enjoy owning in the years to come. Find out how difficult they are to feed and house before you buy.
Remember that some snakes get extremely large, can be dangerous, and live a long time. Lifespans of over twenty years are not uncommon. Don't assume getting rid of that unwanted reptile will be a piece of cake either. Large pythons, in particular, are being kept in snake rescue facilities in larger and larger quantities. Too often they are purchased on the spur of the moment because they seem "cool." Even zoos are not interested in that big snake you can no longer handle. And don't even think about just "turning it loose."
Snakes, especially large ones, can require a great deal of time and effort to take care of. You might even need extra people to help you with routine cage cleaning and water bowl filling. Know the particulars before you take the plunge. There are good books available for learning about most common reptiles that are kept as pets.
Another thing to check out before buying is the laws of your particular city. In many places, snakes of certain varieties are restricted as pets.
That being said, it's a good idea to get the enclosure, or vivarium, ready for the snake to move in before buying one. Different species have different requirements in heat, humidity, and size of enclosure, so again, do your homework.
Before buying, look your snake over for indicators of poor health. It's a good idea to hang around the pet store or breeders' for a while, just watching the snakes. There are observations you can make that will clue you in on an individual snake's temperament as well as its health. The snake should not be too thin or fat. Its eyes should be bright and shiny. If they appear dull, it's a sign that the snake is about to shed its skin. Don't buy a snake while it is shedding. Wait until it has shed so you can get a better idea of how it looks. It shouldn't have any breaks in the skin.
It's normal for snakes to flick their tongues frequently. This is their way of sensing tastes and smells that show them what is going on around them. Snakes don't generally rely on their vision as much as other animals. If the tongue flicking is slower, it could signal the snake is on the defensive.
It is important to get a snake that has been hatched or birthed by a reputable breeder. Never buy a wild-caught snake. For one thing, snakes caught in the wild are often problem feeders. In fact, make sure the snake is happily eating pre-killed food before you buy it. If it is used to live food, it can be difficult to train it to eat pre-killed food. If it is a snake you caught yourself, you have to know exactly what species it is in order to feed it its normal diet. For instance, some species of snakes live entirely on other snakes' eggs. How are you going to feed one of those?
Another reason not to buy a snake caught in the wild is that it can upset the natural ecology of the region where the snake was caught. Pet snakes are being bred and raised in large numbers. There is no reason to jeopardize foreign ecology and stress a wild snake when there are so many captive snakes available.
Some species of snakes are not commonly bred in captivity and are likely to have been captured in the wild. This is true even of snakes bought at the pet store. The Ball Python is one such snake, and it has become a threatened species in its native Africa. Find out before you buy if the snake you want was caught in the wild. If you absolutely must buy a snake caught in the wild, make sure it is a very young one.
The best place to go to find a reputable breeder is your local herpetological society. Most areas have herp clubs for people who are into reptiles. If you're lucky, you might get to attend a herp show in your area. Breeders attend these gatherings and show off their stock. Search online for information about herp shows you could attend. (Herpetology is the branch of biology that studies reptiles and amphibians. "Herp" is a common nickname for these animals.) Getting in touch with other hobbyists is another good way to find breeders. Join a group, even if it is an online community, or visit our forum (www.boatips.com/forums) to learn more.
When studying the choices of pet snake species, get to know the Latin names. Common names vary with pet stores and with regions. By knowing exactly what species of snake you want, you can save yourself a lot of trouble. Different species of similar snakes, such as boas or pythons, have different temperaments and grow to different sizes. Just knowing it is a boa or a python is not specific enough to know for sure what you are getting.
Finally, there are some people who just should not own pet snakes. These include homes with children under five and anyone with a compromised immune system. The reason snakes are dangerous for these people is that there is a small possibility of a snake carrying salmonella. Small children can be injured by snakes, too. While some small children and pets have been constricted to death by large pet snakes, most notably reticulated and Burmese pythons (which can grow to sizes of 25 feet and weigh several hundred pounds), most of the casualties have been young men. And most of the young men who have been killed by their snakes have been intoxicated when it happened.
Know what you're getting into when you start shopping for that cool looking snake. Get a beginner snake, like a corn snake or ball python, if you are a beginner. And prepare to be in it for the long haul.